Monday, June 30, 2008

Southwestern Corn Chowder

Southwestern Corn Chowder

Last week was a busy week. Core went by the wayside and I hardly had time to pull a meal together. There was lots of takeout last week. But I'm excited to get back to cooking and back to Core.

Saturday I managed a homecooked meal, at least. The southwestern corn chowder from Everyday Food wasn't Core, but could possibly be made Core. The only issue with it is the milk. Fat free milk just doesn't cut it in creamy soups. I've heard of people using fat free evaporated milk, but I'm not sure that would work in this case. If anyone tries it, you'll have to let me know. I'd love to make this again but not have to count points for it.

Because I knew fat free milk would probably not give the soup the right consistency, I used half and half. I didn't want to spend money for a half gallon of milk that may or may not go to waste and I need a touch of cream for a fish recipe later in the week. So half and half was the compromise. It worked like a charm.

All of the ingredients are already in my pantry and it comes together in a snap. Served with a mixed greens salad with oil and vinegar and a few baked tortillas chips, it was great simple meal. It was especially a welcome choice after a long day of errands.

Nutritional info (with half and half): 472 calories, 21 grams fat, 6 grams fiber

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pineapple-Stuffed Jerk Chicken

Jerk Chicken with Pineapple

My stimulus check should be coming in the mail at the end of this week, and I can't be more excited. True, I'll put most of it into my savings account because I'm boring and always preparing for the worst. But I've been eyeing the cheapest name-brand grill at Lowe's and it has been calling my name.

I'm constantly flipping through food magazines, and at this time of year they're all about grilling. Most of the recipes can be adapted to a grill pan or broiler, but it's just not the same. It just doesn't have the same flavor -- the it's been kissed by flames and has a nice char kind of flavor. I can't get that with my electric range. Even my broiler is just eh. Nothing to write home about.

Thankfully, the Pineapple-Stuffed Jerk Chicken, is a summertime dish made for the broiler. Most likely because the chicken breasts are supposed to be stuffed. You'll see that I didn't stuff them. When putting out chicken I accidently put out the thin fillets -- not exactly fit for stuffing. But that's ok. Give the pineapple mixture a quick saute and it works out just fine.

To make dish closer to Core, I used way less oil (a tsp per chicken breast) and made sure it was a healthy oil. I counted points for the sugar because it really wouldn't be much of a jerk without it. It was pretty sweet, though, so you could always play around with the amount used.

Without the pineapple stuffing you could most definitely grill the chicken, and it'd probably taste better. I really need that grill.

When I do get around to getting a grill, what's the first thing I should make?

Nutritional Info: 393 calories, 18 grams fat, 2 grams fiber

Friday, June 20, 2008

Spring Vegetable Stew with Soft Polenta

Vegetable Stew with Soft Polenta

Food is expensive. There's no doubt that food prices have been on the rise lately. And one way to cut back on grocery bills is to cut back on meat. At least twice a week I make a meatless meal in an effort to keep the monthly grocery bill total within budget. And it's hard. I haven't done so well so far. But I'm trying. I only busted the budget by $33 this month.

The spring vegetable stew with soft polenta from Vegetarian Times is not only Core, but it's an easy way to save a buck or two. Canned diced tomatoes and canned beans are a bargain. Especially if you are like me and shop at discount grocery stores like Aldi. Plus, I can get zucchini, summer squash and carrots there, which makes the dish even cheaper. Cornmeal is another cost effective ingredient. If you choose quick-cooking polenta, which is an option, it's more expensive. And I don't think this polenta took that much time to come together.

The most expensive thing was the kalamata olives. You could use canned black olives, sure, but the kalamata gives it a briny jolt that the standard canned black olives won't. You could also swap the creminis I used for white button, which are slightly cheaper.

The only thing I did to this recipe was add more salt, more pepper, and a healthy dose of hot sauce. It's cheap, filling, and makes plenty of leftovers.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tomato, Corn and Avocado Salad

Tomato, Corn and Avocado Salad

I've been eating a lot of grape tomatoes and corn lately. In fact, I had tomatoes and corn with my salmon last weekend. What I made a couple night, though, was a cold corn and tomato salad with avocado.

I love avocados even more than corn and tomatoes. I could seriously slice up an avocado and eat it plain. Or even on a slice of toast. Here, it pairs really nicely with corn, tomatoes, scallions, and lime juice. It calls for a whole tablespoon of oil, but if you've had your oil for the day or on Flex and looking to save a few points here or there (as long as you do get in your 2 tsp each day), you could easily cut back a bit on the oil and not miss a thing. The avocados have a natural oilness to them that make up for less liquid oil.

Tonight I made them with the BBQ chicken thighs I made last summer. The sauce came out different than I remember it being, but still good enough to want to eat it by the spoonful. It's not Core, but a worthy use of WPA in my opinion. It does have bottled BBQ sauce in it, but when you're done putting everything else in it, it won't taste anything like the bottled stuff.

Corn, Tomato and Avocado Salad
Kernels from one ear of corn
2 pints grape tomatoes, halved
2 medium scallions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 avocado, diced
1 tbsp canola or safflower oil
coarse salt and ground pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine. Serve at room temperature.

Nurtional Info (for the salad): 157 calories, 10.9 grams of fat, 5.4 grams of fiber
(for the BBQ sauce): 165 calories, 0 of grams fat, 2 grams of fiber

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Spicy Sichuan-Style Shrimp

Spicy Sichuan-Style Shrimp

I have a weakness for cheap Chinese takeout. I love it. If there's a night I don't feel like cooking the first thing out of my mouth will almost always be, "Can we go get Chinese food?" I had an friend whose family were Chinese immigrants. His dad would cook traditional Chinese food every night. It wasn't until college when he was really introduced to American's idea of Chinese food.

And it's bad, he says. Really, really awful. And I don't pretend my local takeout joint is anywhere near authentic. And you know what, I don't really care. All I know is, the fried dumplings and Sichuan chicken with vegetables makes my stomach happy.

Unfortunately, my waistline suffers. So, I try to make a lot of Chinese-style food at home so I'll have the craving for the fattening stuff less often. The Spicy Schiuan-Style Shrimp isn't close to my beloved Sichuan chicken, but it still hit the spot. I made it with brown rice and steamed broccoli to make it as Core-friendly as possible. I used canola also made sure the oil wasn't overdone by using only 4 teaspoons and because I couldn't find chile bean sauce, so I used Huy Fong's chile paste (sambal olek), which appears to be Core and black bean sauce. I also left out the sugar. The only thing you'd have to count points for is the seasame oil.

Overall a good, satisfying Chinese-style meal.

Nutrition Info (excluding rice and broccoli): 192 calories, 9 grams of fat, 0 grams of fiber

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Beef Kabobs with Tabbouleh Salad

Beef Kabobs with Tabbouleh Salad

In July, the boyfriend and I are celebrating our two-year anniversary. Technically, if you ask him, we have two anniversaries. In my opinion our first date was in July when we went to the Ohio wine festival. It was just the two of us, so I considered that a date.

In his mind, we weren't dating until August when he formally asked if I would like to go out on a date. I didn't think the word "date" needed to be specifically uttered, but I guess he needed that to be said.

Anyhow, the night he officially asked me out on a date I made him dinner for the first time. Because it was nearly August, I wanted it to be something summery, light, and healthful. I didn't want to get the beached whale syndrome -- you know, when you lie on the couch, stuffed to the point of being unable to move and moaning in discomfort? That kind of thing is a romance killer.

So I made beef kebabs with tabbouleh salad. I chose a fairly nice cut of meat so the dish was sort of special without being overly fussy. And on the advice of my wine-loving friend, we had a bottle of zinfandel. For dessert, I made nectarine sundaes with blackberry syrup.

Last week, I decided to make the dish again for the first time. As the boyfriend was shoveling food into his mouth he paused. "This was the first thing you made for me, wasn't it?"

It was great to know he remembered.

Beef Kebabs
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 pounds beef tenderloin, sirloin, or top round, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup zucchini, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup red onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice

Combine salt, coriander, cumin, ground red pepper and black pepper and sprinkle over the beef. Toss well to coat.

Combine the red bell pepper, zucchini and red onion, 2 tsp olive oil and 2 tsp fresh lemon juice. Toss to coat.

Thread beef and vegetables, alternating the two, onto skewers (presoak the wooden ones in water). Broil 10 minutes, or until done, turning half way through.

Nutritional Info (for the kebabs): 338 calories, 16 grams of fat, 2 grams of fiber

Monday, June 16, 2008

Chili-Rubbed Salmon

Chili-Rubbed Salmon

A few weeks ago, a coworker of mine referred to me as a "foodie." And I have to admit, I cringed a little. I'm not really a fan of that term. When I think of a foodie, a food snob comes to mind. That's not me at all.

I've done Weight Watchers on and off for seven years, and I've learned a lot in that time. Mostly, I found out that I want to eat things that taste really good as well as being good for me. Also, I'm more satisfied by having the "regular" version and less of it rather than a "diet" fat free, sugar free version. Take maple syrup for example. I'd much rather have a tablespoon or two of real, Grade B organic maple syrup than a whole bucket full of the sugar free pancake syrup. Sure, I could really drench my waffles with the sugar free stuff for the same amount of points I'm spending on the real thing, but even with less of the real syrup tastes better.

Another criterion for choosing meals: If I had a non-dieting friend over for dinner, would he/she realize this food was low calorie, low fat, or good for them?

This Chili-Rubbed Salmon is something I would definitely feed any of my friends. It's simple, delcious and good for you. Salmon is a fattier fish that I've seen many people on Flex avoid because the points value is higher than other fish. But on Core, it can be eaten to satisfaction without having to count for it. It makes eating omega-3s so much easier.

The recipe comes with two sides -- broiled zucchini and sauteed corn. Both of which are good. I prefer my zucchini sauteed, honestly, but it really wasn't bad this way. I had to modify the corn a bit because fresh salsa could be a liability considering I don't know what kind of tomatoes those are. So, I simply added a small tomato from the vine instead. It didn't have the kick the original recipe would have had, but it worked anyhow.

The leftovers, minus maybe the zucchini would be great cold the next day on top of salad greeens with a southwestern style dressing. You won't even need to gross out your coworkers with the smell of fish in the office microwave.

Nutritional Info: 375 calories, 13 grams of fat, 6 grams of fiber
(Note this includes my recipe swaps: 4 tsp oil instead of 2 tbsp, 4 4-oz. salmon fillets instead of 6 oz. fillets, and a small tomato, instead of the salsa)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Frittata with Mushrooms and Fontina

Frittata with Mushrooms and Fontina

When looking for recipe ideas, I look through a lot of websites and magazines. I found a frittata similar to this one in Food & Wine. I find the magazine interesting, but my only critique is there are few affordable, everyday recipes.

Some call for pricey cuts of meat, others for oddball ingredients you wonder if you'll ever possibly use again. For the average home cook or for one a budget like me, the recipes just aren't realistic. I for one, will not find mortadella at my local Meijer.

But the Chanterelle and Fontina Frittata looked promising. Chanterelle mushrooms are very good, but can be costly, especially considering I've only found them at Whole Foods. So I swapped them for cremini mushrooms. I also tried dried tarragon, but it really needs to be fresh. I also cut WAY back on the oil. If using a nonstick pan, there's no need to use that much. I used 4 tsp divided and the frittata came out of the pan just fine.

It was pretty good and certainly simple enough. And by stopping at Trader Joe's, I saved some money on the fontina. If you don't want to shell out the money for fontina you could try subsituting mozzarella or provolone. Really any cheese that melts well will work, but fontina has a slightly-nutty flavor you won't get with any of those swaps.

On the Flex plan and want to make it even lighter? Try swapping 8 whole eggs for 4 whole eggs and 6 egg whites.

Nutritional Info (with whole eggs and 4 tsp oil): 250 calories, 19 grams fat, 1 gram fiber

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Chicken, Peach and Red Onion Skewers

Peach, Chicken, and Red Onion Skewers

This isn't the most flattering photo out there, but you get the idea. And despite what it may look like, they were actually pretty good and fairly simple to make. The idea came from Rachael Ray's kabobs with chicken and plums. Unfortunately, when I went to the store for plums, they didn't have any. They did, however, have a ton of peaches.

So peaches is what I went with. I pretty much made the recipe as is and spent the points because I had them. To make it closer to Core you'd need to cut back on the oil and count points for the jam. You might try replacing some of the oil with chicken broth, as you need liquid to marinade in and boil down for a glaze later.

Now that I think of it though, it did call for apricot jam on plums, so I might have been able to get away with using a plum jam on it with the peaches. Hmm. I'll have to try that later. And yes, I do have plum jam in the refridgerator. You won't find strawberry, but you'll find blackberry, apricot and plum. I'm a bit of an oddball like that.

I also made the couscous with sliced almonds. Always a good choice, in my opinion.

Chicken, Peach and Red Onion Skewers
1/2 cup canola oil
1/3 cup apricot jam
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, quartered
8 peaches (about 2 pounds), quartered lengthwise
1 red onion, quartered lengthwise and halved crosswise
One 10-ounce box plain instant couscous
2 cups low sodium, fat-free chicken broth
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Whisk together the canola oil, jam, vinegar and soy sauce in a medium bowl. Add the chicken and toss to coat and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Transfer the marinated chicken to a bowl. Pour the marinade into a small saucepan, boil for 2 minutes, then let cool.

Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium. Thread the chicken, plums and onion onto 8 skewers. Grill the kebabs, turning occasionally and basting frequently with the marinade during the first 6 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, bring 2 cups of chicken broth to a boil. Stir in the couscous, cover, remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff the couscous with a fork, add the almonds and toss. Serve the couscous alongside the kebabs.

Nutritional Info: coming soon

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Thai-Style Shrimp

Thai-Style Shrimp

No matter how often I try to plan ahead, I occaisonally have to improvise. Earlier this week I planned to make the Thai-Style Sea Scallops from the WW site. It's not Core, but you really only need to count the the sesame oil in my opinion. The cornstarch points and sugar points come out to zero when spread over the entire recipe. But again, that's just my opinion on the matter.

When I pulled out the scallops to thaw them, they smelled fishy and had some serious freezer burn — so I had to chuck them. It's a shame. I had shrimp, though, so I thawed those out instead. And you know, It tasted great anyhow. In fact, you could probably even make this with chicken if you didn't like seafood. The sauce was actually pretty good and is versatile enough I don't think it really matters what protein you use, as long as you adjust the cooking time.

I paired it with the asian noodle salad I posted about here and here. I love that salad. It's one of the few dishes I tend to make over and over again.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Whole Wheat Pasta with Fresh Cherry Tomato Sauce

Whole Wheat Pasta with Fresh Cherry Tomato Sauce

It was scorching hot yesterday. And when it's that hot the last thing I want to do is run the oven. And that's why recipes like this tomato sauce is great. The pasta cooks in about 10 minutes, then you brown the garlic in a pan with olive oil, and add the rest of the ingredients and stir.

The most tedious part of it is quartering 5 cups of cherry tomatoes.

I really liked this meal, but the boyfriend wasn't as thrilled. I thought it was fresh and light. Perfect for such a hot day. But the boyfriend said it lacked flavor. I personally don't feel a fresh tomato sauce should have a lot going on. You should be tasting the tomatoes -- not hiding them with herbs and spices.

The recipe includes a recipe for whole wheat pasta, it's not Core and looks pretty time consuming so I skipped it. Instead, I made regular 100% whole wheat pasta from a box. Not as fancy, but it was good enough for a weeknight.

What's your favorite no-cook meal?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Impromptu Nachos

The boyfriend and I have had a rough week. This morning so far I've forgot my employee badge, my wallet, and spilled my breakfast on my leg. I would have turned around and went home today, but there was an accident on the freeway and traffic was backed up for miles. So here I am, muddling through my workday, trying not to seriously injure myself or anyone else.

And when I have a bad day, I crave junk food. The other day that manifested itself in a heaping plate of nachos. I didn't have a lot on hand, so they may not look that appetizing. I defrosted some Taco Filling I made about a month ago, added it to blue corn chips, and topped it with scallions, two kinds of salsa (regular medium and salsa verde), and some shredded monterey jack cheese.

Oh yeah, and we slugged down a couple margaritas, too.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Pork au Poivre

Pork au Poivre

Whenever pork tenderloin is on sale I buy one of the big packages with two tenderloin. Out of the most recent package and made the pork with mustard sauce and this week, I make Pork au Poivre with a red wine reduction sauce.

The pork is a basic recipe. The sauce is really good. You know it's good when you're standing over the stove eating it by the spoonful. YUM. It has red wine in it, which isn't Core, but comes out to less than a point per serving.

On the side, I made steamed red potatoes and creamed spinach. Of course, the spinach was points, but a delicious way to get in your greens. Pulling tough stems off two bags of leafy spinach took a while, but was well worth the effort in the end. I'm just a fan of frozen spinach. But if you are, you could thaw it and make your life easier.

What's your favorite way to serve pork tenderloin?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Lemon-Parsley Pork Chops

Lemon-Parsley Pork Chops

The picture with the recipe looked much prettier. But Memorial Day weekend was georgeous and we had been driving all day (to Cincinnati to go to the new IKEA and back) so I wanted simple for dinner so we could have time to sit out on our porch and enjoy the weather while it lasted.

The Lemon-Parsley Pork Chops were light and refreshing and came together in a snap. Just season, sear, add some water and a lid and let the pork cook away, creating it's own delcious sauce. Combine some parsley lemon zest, salt, pepper and minced garlic to make the pork's topping. Simple.

I made a green salad and some boiled fresh corn on the cob to round out the meal. I love effortless meals.

Nutritional Info: Coming Soon.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Parmesan Risotto-Stuffed Portobellos

Parmesan Risotto-Stuffed Portobellos

I've been rediscovering the bulk bins lately. Last week I found short-grain brown rice at Whole Foods. Arborio rice, the white rice usually in risotto is a short grain rice, so I thought I could make a brown rice risotto.

I saw this parmesan risotto on the Cooking Light website and thought I would try to modify it to Core. I'd use brown rice and skip the mozzarella. I'd just count points for the parm and skip the wine and up the broth. Sounds like it would work, right?

After 20 minutes the rice was still hard as a rock.


Brown rice takes longer to cook. But after 55 minutes of cooking time, it was still pretty crunchy. I was so frustrated I ended up baking the mushrooms without the risotto stuffed in them and just spooned the risotto on top at the end.

And it was still crunchy. Oh well. The flavor was good.

Anyone have a good brown rice risotto recipe?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Spicy Vegetable Ragout over Polenta

Spicy Vegetable Ragout over Polenta

This spicy vegetable ragout not only sounded good, it was highly rated on Cooking Light's website. That's why when I took a spoonful of ragout and tasted it while it was cooking, I was confused. It was bland and flavorless.

How did it get such good reviews? It tasted awful. Well, not inedible, but it wasn't something I wanted to eat.

But I misjudged the dish. When paired with the polenta, the ragout came alive. It was not longer the bland vegetable dish I was so worried about. What a relief. I was afraid this dish would be a dumper. I've made only one thing in two years that was bad enough to dump in the trash and I was hoping this one wouldn't break my streak.

In the interest of time, I didn't use broiled polenta. I left the polenta soft. You could also use premade polenta in a log and broil that.. but because the vegetables are so bland, it's really a better idea to make the polenta yourself. If you're on Core, like me, you'll have to use ff parm or soy parm to make it completely Core. Otherwise, you can do what I did and count points for the cheese.